Attendance now a big problem

Both Knox County and Barbourville schools are struggling to keep their student attendance percentages up to par.

School officials are doing everything they can go get and keep their students in school. This means starting the day making personal phone calls to the parents of every child that is absent without a valid excuse. It can even mean making personal home visits.

“One of the biggest problems is when a student has a valid doctor’s appointment,” said Brian Carey, Director of Pupil Personnel at Barbourville City School. “If the appointment is in the morning, the students will stay home the rest of the day, and the same goes for afternoon appointments. This is how the system gets abused.”

“We’ll talk individually with the students, and they’ll stay in school for the next couple of weeks. Then they’ll fall back into the same old habit,” said Carey. “We’ve also talked with the PTO about them providing a gift for perfect attendance. We’ve begun publishing perfect attendance along with the Honor Rolls in the newspaper, and this seems to help some. The kids love seeing their names in the paper.”

Unlike a lot of schools, Carey says Barbourville does not have a problem with students skipping class once they’re in school. The problem is the students who simply do not come into school at all.

Barbourville City School had 3,700 doctor’s or parent’s excuses in the 2014-2015 school year alone.

People think that if the student has an excuse, it’s ok to be absent,” said Carey. “But, they don’t realize that every time a student is absent from school, we lose money.”

Barbourville schools have been in session three weeks now, and students have already accumulated 298 total absences.

At the present time, the government pays $3,981 per child to the school each year. Last year Barbourville schools ended with 93 percent attendance. If the school could have raised that total only a couple of places to 95 percent – or 50 more kids per day – the school would have gained $200,000 in state funds – funds that could be used to make the school a state-of-the-art facility.

“Our goal is to raise our year-end attendance percentage by at least one-half percent, but we’d love to be at 95 percent,” said Gina Sears, Director of Pupil Personnel at Knox County Schools.

Knox County has changed its attendance policy this year in the hopes of raising its year-end percentage.

“We’ve made changes in how we address absences,” said Sears. “Once a student has accumulated six unexcused absences, they lose their parent notes.”

The directors were in agreement that a student is considered truant after only three unexcused absences and after six, the school can file with the court system.

“And at 10 unexcused absences, we take away all of their extra-curricular activities,” said Sears. “That includes both sports and class field trips. Next year that will go down to eight and drop to six the following year. The only exception will be if the trip is considered a part of the curriculum.”

The monies schools lose on absenteeism is only second to the fact that the students lose out on a lot of instructional time. Knox County, with 4,500 students, lost a total of 388,000 instructional hours last year due to absenteeisms. Barbourville with 675 students, lost more than 54,000 hours of instructional time.

“People don’t know that this is as big a problem as it is,” said Carey. “People may say that you just want their kids here for the money, but it’s more than that. We could provide them with so much more if they were here. Running a school is like running a business. Our business is to teach the kids, and when they’re not here, you simply cannot provide them when what they need. We give them the essentials, but we could provide so much more.”

The fact that students are now required to stay in school until they are 18 leaves the school systems with the task of finding new ways to keep those student’s minds occupied and wanting to stay in school.